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Clearwater officials review hotel project

Nine Clearwater officials toured the almost completed, 717-room Tampa Marriott Waterside last Monday. They praised the huge marble foyer and classy interior finishes even as they stepped over piles of sawdust and construction debris.

Work is continuing to finish the $111-million hotel for a February opening. But the riverfront project is already touted as an economic engine that will rev up downtown Tampa and boost business at the city's nearby convention center.

Trammell Crow Co. officials, who put the Marriott Waterside project together, wanted Clearwater's leaders to see they can accomplish big things.

Last Monday's hotel tour was part of Trammell Crow's pitch to come to Clearwater, where they want to be chosen to redevelop 39 acres of mostly publicly owned land in the city's downtown overlooking Clearwater Harbor.

Clearwater officials are considering four applicants for the project. Trammell Crow is the biggest company in the running.

"There is no development challenge that we don't have the wherewithal to address," Bob Abberger, who heads Trammell Crow's regional office in Tampa, told Clearwater officials.

Abberger sprinkled his sales pitch with statistics: His company has more than 1.3-million square feet of projects under development now in the Tampa Bay area, with a total cost of almost $170-million.

Nationally, the publicly traded company has experts in a full range of services, from property management to leasing out new retail projects, Abberger said.

In Clearwater, Trammell Crow has proposed making the centerpiece of its proposed downtown redevelopment project a new 250-room, all-suite hotel and a concert amphitheater on the city's waterfront bluff.

The new concert venue would be run by Palace Sports and Entertainment, the company whose holdings include the lease rights to the Ice Palace, the Tampa Bay Lightning, Detroit Pistons and other concert venues nationwide.

Abberger said that Trammell Crow is already working with Palace Sports in Tampa to develop a 200,000-square-foot entertainment complex called Treasure Pointe on three acres of land adjacent to the new Marriott Waterside, the Ice Palace and a 1,700-car parking garage.

The Treasure Pointe project is to include a 50,000-square-foot sports bar and three restaurants, Abberger said, but the major tenants haven't been secured yet.

Clearwater officials said they were impressed by the Marriott Waterside, but they have not been as enthusiastic about some of Trammell Crow's ideas for Clearwater. They spent less time with Trammell Crow than they have with any of the city's potential developers. Officials even skipped a planned lunch and headed back to Clearwater.

Meanwhile, Clearwater officials are planning to spend additional time and money to find out more about a New Orleans group's proposal.

They visited Punta Gorda on Friday, where one of the New Orleans developers put together a project 10 years ago that has fallen short of what was originally proposed. The Clearwater officials are now scheduled to hear mostly from supporters of developer David Waltemath on an itinerary he put together.

Another trip is being planned for Mayor Brian Aungst, Commissioner Ed Hooper and City Manager Mike Roberto to return to New Orleans to meet with the New Orleans developers.

State open government laws prohibit discussions about pending city business between two or more members of the commission outside public meetings. City Attorney Pam Akin said that the two commissioners must avoid talking with each other about redevelopment issues while on the trip.

The process

Clearwater's steps for choosing a developer for its waterfront property:

+ Jan. 6-7: Visited development team from West Palm Beach.

+ Jan. 11-12: Visited development team from New Orleans.

+ Jan. 18-19: Visited Columbus, Ohio, headquarters of Steiner + Associates.

+ Jan. 24: Went to Tampa to see Trammell Crow Co.'s office.

+ Jan. 25: City ranking committee meets to discuss proposals.

+ Friday: Trip to Punta Gorda to see a project that the New Orleans developer did.

+ Tuesday and Wednesday: Two commissioners and City Manager Mike Roberto go back to New Orleans.

+ Feb. 7: City staff committee ranks its top proposal choices.

+ Feb. 8: Developers make proposals to city commissioners. First opportunity scheduled so far for public questions and comments to be made on these proposals.

+ Feb. 17: City Commission is set to choose a developer to work with.

+ Six months of negotiations are scheduled to lead to a long-term development agreement for 39 acres of mostly publicly owned, waterfront land.

+ November: Referendum could be held to approve aspects of the deal.

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